Big Pharma, Friend or Enemy?

My "Big Pharma"

My “Big Pharma”

Everyday it seems we are subjected to yet another “new” study that insists we must do this or that to better our health. Sadly, so may accept these “announcements” as total truth without doing any background research on the subject. Being constantly bombarded by media, we tend to start believing everything we hear. Since it’s coming from the news, it has to be true. Does it? Really?

As I mentioned in my last post, most anyone can concoct a stunning web site and post most any information on it. And because it looks professional, it immediately gains credibility with the reader. Again, really?!!!

I too, have been fooled by snazzy sites and flashy reports that claim to have the “only” way to make my life better. A blog I follow, and have found to have mostly good information, recently came under attack for “selling” items and information on the site. The author responded with an apology, but said that was the only way he could afford to continue posting the info. It’s a shame that he has to do this, but certainly understandable. In today’s business models, profit is important, and even just generating enough to cover costs is necessary. A necessary evil we all live with.

But, I digress. I didn’t start this post to complain about business and the economy. Actually it is due to a recent article I saw on the web regarding cholesterol. As we age (and I’ve done my fair share of it!), we all get more and more concerned with the issue. Lately, I’ve read a number of articles slamming the mainstream cholesterol medications as being bad for us. And there are just as many out there preaching we must do (eat and take) all that the mainstream medical profession says we should.

We should all be aware of the fact that “Big Pharma” spends boat loads of money trying to influence the front line of health care providers to prescribe their drugs. Yes, there is very much a profit motive. But, at what cost, our health?

With new research and the spate of lawsuits regarding fairly recent drugs, (can you say Xarelto, Avandia, and many others?) those who are astute in following these developments have a very real reason to fear what might be forced on them by well meaning health care practitioners. Sadly, most people receiving health care don’t bother to read up on the drugs they are prescribed and many do not follow recent developments in the pharmaceutical industry.

Granted, there are many great drugs out there. And my heart goes to all front-line health care practitioners as they have a very difficult and stressful job. I believe they are following the guidelines given to them with the full intent of doing what is best for the patient. The trouble is, the Big Pharma companies don’t have the same goal. They are about money, and more money. And that is the conflict of it all.

In my book, Against Their Will, this mentality prevails. Scientists, hired in secret by the US Government, have discovered a new class of drugs that show serious potential to cure a lot of diseases. Even more importantly, they see how they can use their discoveries to make big money. It doesn’t matter to them the human life cost. They are immune. Their instructions are to produce the drug and multiply it at all costs.

When I first started writing this book, these assumptions were considered scandalous. Sadly, it is so much more believable today that it is downright frightening.

What can we do? Do we have any options? Or, do we have no choice but to comply? I believe it is up to each individual to determine this. However, there are things we can do.

We can find informative sources and research them to determine their credibility and therefore make our own decisions. We can search for and engage health care providers who understand our concerns and work with us to find solutions. And, we can say no. No to what is being prescribed. No to what is being strongly suggested we must take to save our lives. No, to those who don’t care about us and our health, but care more for their own pocketbook.

We need to open our eyes and decide for ourselves what is best for us and take advice from those we truly trust and know have our best interests in mind. Being responsible for our self in every way, especially our health, is the only hope we have.

Are Your Bad Guys Bad Enough?

Most people don’t like bad guys. After all, they spend their real or fictional lives antagonizing others or themselves!

The epitome of a "bad guy" stage!

The epitome of a “bad guy” stage!

Bad guys make us sit on the edges of our seats, get sweaty palms, or even raise our heart rates. But are they really necessary for a good story?

YES! It’s been stated many times that conflict makes a story engaging or engrossing. What better way to create conflict than to have a bad guy antagonizing our hero. The greatest thrillers use this model and even dramatic stories successfully incorporate the bad guys into the plot line.

I’m a fan of Diana Galbadon (The Outlander Series and Starz Network Show). She has successfully created a number of bad guys that really set my teeth on edge and make my fingernails grow a couple of inches; all the better to claw their eyes out with! I hate the bad guys. I want them dead, gone, kaput! But, if they left the scene right away, what consequences would ensue? Sure, the protagonist would be “okay” but, would the story be as interesting if there was nothing to fear or be angry about? Would the reader really want to continue reading?

Not all stories use human characters to facilitate the bad guy persona. While many do, many authors are quite adept at using events and inanimate objects to antagonize the protagonists. A hurricane, health scare or disease outbreak, or financial crisis are just a few situations that are “bad” and can do much to facilitate character development and story interest. Situations a reader can relate to also help to grow interest and empathy from a reader. An author is not limited to human, breathing bad guys, but objects and events can be drafted to do the job.

I must admit I love “pulling the chains” of my “bad” characters. It is fulfilling, at times, to inflict emotional and/or physical distress on them. No, I’m not a sadist! But, writing in this manner is a great release of frustrations in my own life. I find it very cathartic and liberating. However, it is also rewarding to let some bad guys find redemption and become someone who is forgiven, loved, or even a savior of the protagonist. Either scenario, letting the bad guy stay bad and resolve the issues encountered with tragedy or letting him or her change and resolve the story in a more positive note make for writing that is captivating.

And if it makes for a best seller, all the better!

Until next time . . .

Making Characters Work for You

Oh what to eat first! Just more food for thought!

Oh what to eat first! Just more food for thought!

We’ve discussed memorable characters and briefly touched on some of the qualities that make them work. But what really makes a character work in a story, movie or book?

For those of you who watched the tv series, Breaking Bad, you’ve seen great characters at work. The series has characters you can relate to; love, hate and even feel sorry for. But, if you were really into the series, you can say one thing, there is no character there that does not elicit some type of reaction from the viewer. Hmmm, wonder why that is?

In dissecting the issue, let’s look at some of the character traits. Walter White is faced with a life threatening situation. He also is strongly motivated to provide for his family. He’s so motivated that he is willing to do just about anything to accomplish his goal. In seeking that goal, he goes out on many limbs and does things that no one, well at least most anyone would ever expect of him.

Then, look at Jesse. He is also pulled into Walter’s world and while his motivations are drastically different, he embarks on a journey with Walter that changes him profoundly. They have conflict, dramatically different views on many things, but as they progress through their journey together, they also learn how the other looks at things. Even when they disagree, they slowly develop a semblance of respect for the other.

Okay, so I’ve oversimplified things – I didn’t want to do any “spoiling” for those who have not seen the show. But, these characters are very complex. There are no simple solutions to their dilemmas and their motivations are not all about any one thing, but arise from different layers in each of their lives. They are not one-dimensional, but multi-faceted. They can feel sympathy for something simple or complex. They can react with rage over big or small events. They can withdraw or lash out because of situations encountered. And all of these things can create tension; between the characters and between the characters and events, or objects, that create some dissonance in their psyche.  All of these add interest and tension.

Interest and tension. One creates the other. Create tension between two or more characters and interest blooms. Create even more tension, distress, conflict, or whatever to put characters at odds with each other or their environment, and interest grows. Interest keeps the viewer and the reader engaged.

Much has been said about making sure characters encounter conflict. It is true that this is the basis for tension which is what keeps people on the edges of their seats, or as an author wants more than anything, readers turning the pages!

Food for thought and hopefully, a little stirring of the juices here! Until next time – happy writing!

We have so much right at our fingers. Do we know or care?

What some call weeds, others call medicine.

What some call weeds, others call medicine.We have been blessed with so much, not just the material things in our lives, but the things Nature has given us.

We have been blessed with so much, not just the material things in our lives, but the things Nature has given us.

Those in past generations knew about some of the naturally occurring medicines provided by nature; things such as berries, roots, bark, leaves, etc. But as humankind advanced and began to make our own medicines, it became very convenient to forget about what was given to us by Nature.

Today, there seems to be a rising awareness as to the bounty of natural substances that are ready and waiting to be discovered and used. New interest is growing in the use of herbs, nuts, various plants, trees, and shrubs to cure, heal and even enhance our lives. Books are proliferating on shelves that discuss and dissect the entire topic of herbal and natural healing.

When our world was created, we were given all we would ever need to survive. But, we were challenged to discover and perfect our knowledge on our own. All the medicines to overcome the frailties inherent in our species were provided, but cloaked or hidden in various plants or in nature itself. This is a great thing to realize we have it all, but mankind is too often blinded by his or her overblown sense of self.

Those with determination, the will and the ability can study and learn how to use these medicines and how best to harness their power. Win-win, right? Not necessarily. Humans aren’t perfect and our inner core screams out to take care of self first. From there it is a slippery slope into outright deviation from doing good, to just doing what is best for the self. I think we all have a point of corruption. Given enough rope, (some need more than others) we would all hang ourselves. Given no boundaries to stop us, we would all eventually self-destruct, all in the pursuit of self pleasure.

In Against Their Will, scientists have discovered a natural substance in pine rosin that shows promise to cure many diseases and even enhance the human life. They develop a series of compounds that can cure multiple dreaded diseases, change personality traits and even give extraordinary longevity to humans. Sounds great, right? Sadly, these wondrous discoveries fall into greedy hands and are manipulated to serve selfish interests, not the greater good.

Should the abuse by some cancel the good that is done by others? That is the question, both in my book and in life. If seeing how this dilemma is played out in one scenario, read the book Against Their Will. If you’re interested in learning about some of the valuable plants that can benefit your life, read more at the following Healthy Holistic Living

What can Book Clubs do for you?

Books of every genre can be promoted at a book club.

Books of every genre can be promoted at a book club.

Many of you may belong to book clubs, others may have utilized their exposure to boost name recognition and sales.

I recently made myself available to book clubs as a speaker and guest. It remains to be seen how profitable this will be (not just in sales made, but in gaining more exposure to future readers), but regardless, I think it will produce some helpful insight in how readers look for books, how they digest them and what they are looking for in a book.

I know, I know, we’re creative types, but business intrudes into our fantasy world, especially if we want to keep creating those fantasies for others to read. So, I feel this is a viable tool to help us research hot topics, see what is “happening” with readers as well as get a little much needed recognition.

Most of all, I would love to hear from others about his or her experiences in dealing with book clubs. Do you feel it is worth the time or effort? What did you find to be the best or the worst experiences?

Thanks for your insight!

Happy reading and writing!
http://bookclubreading.com/against-their-will/

 

Books waiting to be autographed.

Books waiting to be autographed.

Writer’s Block? Naaah…

Even when things seem mundane, look for the possibilities.

Even when things seem mundane, look for the possibilities.

I’ve never been one for New Year’s resolutions and this year is no exception with one exception. I’m making one resolution. And this is one that I encourage all writers out there to embrace as well. That’s it, just one. Write. That’s right, write!

What’s so hard about sticking to this one demand? Well, I for one can wrangle just about every type of procrastination angle out there. I’ve written about procrastination before. I’m sure I will again, especially when I’m ready to beat myself up over it!

This year, I plan to change my ways. I plan to make time each day to write at least a paragraph on my latest book; hopefully more. Do I think I’ll be successful? I should, but who knows what sort of roadblocks will come my way. The cat wants out, so while I’m at it I should take the trash out. Then I see a stack of junk that needs to be hauled to the garbage, from there I find I’m now cleaning out my closet. By the time that is finished, it’s midnight and I’m pooped. Another day gone and no time at the computer. See how I think?!

Just write!

I challenge each of you to do the same. I would especially love to hear your thoughts on this and any tricks you come up with to overcome roadblocks (aka excuses) to keep you from creating those magical words that can transform any of us into a new place or thought pattern.

Focus! Just write!

Happy New Year and let the writing begin!

Procrastination or Thanksgiving

Does procrastination freeze you in place, unable to move forward?

Does procrastination freeze you in place, unable to move forward?

We all know the holidays are breathing down our necks. Heck it’s less than a week until Thanksgiving. All of the obsessive-compulsive types lurking out there (ME), may be (ARE) panicked if he or she is like me and procrastinates until the last minute to get something, anything done.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my family and friends and very much enjoy gathering for the traditional dinner, and even cooking the usual dishes. The stress comes from waiting until the last minute to do it all. Year, after year; event after event, nothing changes, I’m always waiting until the last possible second to get the vacuum, feather duster and mop out of their dark, cob-web ridden corners. This year, I’m proud to say I’m ahead of the game. The vacuum cleaner is sitting in the living room, just waiting for me to plug it in and turn it on. It’s been there for over a week. I’m staring at it as I type these words. But, I just can’t get the gumption to walk three feet over to it and actually turn it on. It silently mocks me, daring me to overcome whatever fear it is that holds me hostage in my chair. But heck, that doesn’t bother me. I’ll turn it on when I’m good and ready and not a moment before!

I’m sure there are plenty of therapists out there that salivate over dissecting the causes and cures for people like me. I’m just not making myself available to them! Even though I know I have an issue with procrastination, nothing changes. And, I hate to admit it, but I’m the same way with my writing. Yep, something I enjoy and get energized by doing, I procrastinate on doing. Go figure. To my defense, the proscrianation usually occurs when there is a deadline. Perhaps I just love playing with fire and pushing my boundaries as far as I can just to see what I can get away with. Or, maybe it’s something deeper. I have no clue.

I think a lot of writers chant the “I-can-put-it-off-until-next week-next month-next year” mantra. We’re not that unusual a species. Are there advantages to being a procrastinator? I’m not sure. I can certainly rationalize why I put things off, but if there is a benefit to it, I haven’t discovered it yet.

Many people do their best work when under pressure, and writers often rank at the top of that list. Many don’t plan on putting off that all important assignment; but instead get caught in the pressures and demands of daily living. I know I can claim that excuse 90 per cent of the time. As writers we can claim “Writer’s Block” for a good amount of procrastination, but not all of it. We also can claim family demands; no one will argue with that. What I think it comes down to are priorities. What really is most important to us?
When I take the time to re-assess my reasons for writing, I somehow get a sudden inspiration and often find myself typing away within minutes of that revelation. If I could just keep it going. But, it’s like being on the never-ending diet, the motivation that gets one through the first day or two somehow likes to evaporate like a sun drenched mist in the aftermath of a summer thunderstorm. And I suddenly find myself staring at a blank screen not sure how I got there in the first place.

Whatever psychological reasons exist for one’s procrastination, I think it is critically important that we do not beat ourselves up over it. Instead, we need to accept who we are, determine our priorities of what must be done and even more importantly, what we want to get done. Just adding that little bit of “want” to the equation can often be all the impetus needed to get that wheel rolling. Just thinking of the rewards of completing a successful piece can sometimes be enough. Sometimes we need more motivation. Whatever is needed, please search for it. Those words, thoughts, emotions and scenes playing out in your head will be something that entertains, evokes thought, or can even change one’s life. Don’t keep it to yourself; feel free to share it. More people than perhaps you imagine can be affected by your work. And that in itself could be the best motivation to overcome procrastination yet.

Happy Thanksgiving! And yes, I did plug in the vacuum cleaner today.

How Not to Write a Book

Off chasing yet another tangent

Off chasing yet another tangent

From time to time I am asked where did I get the inspiration for and how did I plot Against Their Will. The answer is one that often surprises people, especially those who are preparing to write their own books. I simply started with a couple of people I could visualize, adapted a real life event in my own life and inserted them into it. After that event concluded, I had no idea where the book was going next or where it would end up. I just had two characters who had experienced a cataclysmic event in their lives. For those organized and perhaps anal writers, this is not the way to start! But, I will admit, I am a free-thinker, and being creative, I don’t want to be “boxed in” by parameters, especially those set by others. My husband often accuses me of deliberately doing the opposite of what I am told to do, just because I can. And, I do! It drives him crazy, but I’m happy.

When I started on my first novel (long since buried in the trash can), I wrote what I liked to read. I still do. Reading a variety of other works, and a good dose of those that fall into the same genre as what I am writing in, helps me to develop my own voice and style. This initially didn’t help me with the plotting conundrum, but as I have learned to step back and analyze my work, what I learn from other writers makes a big contribution to my own development. I’m not advocating any kind of plagiarism, but rather the studying the styles and methods of successful writers is a way, especially for new writers but also more experienced ones, to see the types of things that work and those that don’t work. .

Because I love thrillers and suspense novels and those are the books I want to write, I asked myself what could I do next to surprise the reader. Nineteen chapters and one prologue later, my novel was born.

Despite the challenge and fun of creating a story in this manner, I would never suggest to another author to use this method. Using an outline as a skeleton and then adding “meat” to it would be my preferred method. However, I am the kind of author that gets “lost” in the created world I am developing and it is just more fun to let the tangents rule and follow their trails in unknown directions. A pre-defined story map is often limiting to those of us who let their creative sides trump the more structured side of their writing minds.

One big set-back to the tangent writing style is the fact that it can get complicated keeping the story straight. This caused a lot of re-writes and edits in my case. It also necessitated a content edit to be sure all the dangling events were tied together and resolved.

Although I still utilize the Tangent Style of writing in my other books, I have incorporated a new method to help me focus. That is, I write the ending just as soon as I have the opening scene completed. This gives me a “finish line” or goal to achieve and helps to keep my wandering ways in check. It also helps when I get “stuck” or blocked. I re-read the ending and visualize what the characters would have had to do to get to that point. Soon after, the creative juices get flowing again and my fingers are tapping away on the keyboard.

Alternatives to Traditional Publishing – Self-Publishing; is it a Dirty Word?

We're not in Kansas anymore!

We’re not in Kansas anymore!

As discussed before, traditional publishing is starting to take a back seat to new alternatives. The old stigma of never paying for publication and the often negative association with the terms “vanity press” causes many authors to avoid these options altogether. But, today is a new day, Things are changing in the world of writing and publishing, in some cases quite rapidly. As new technology grows, changes in attitudes toward these new options are growing as well. Authors now have more opportunities to get their work in the hands of readers. This is truly good news.

Independent and self-publishing platforms are rapidly becoming the new norm for today’s authors. I read an article just last week about a main-stream author who has been writing in excess of 20 years. This person has written numerous books that were published by traditional presses. Even with “success” in the traditional publishing realm, this author felt there were greater opportunities to be had by switching to independent publishing; which this person has done with success.

Going the independent route for authors offers a sense of control over the project. Depending on the company and the package of services the author acquires, the levels of control may vary. Still, authors have a say in most every step of the process. If you have strong opinions on a cover design, how the book should be formatted, or even as to which color the ink should be, these are options where the author is in charge. The book size, the paper used for printing and word length can be chosen by an author. Another area of control is the timetable. How quickly an author wants to release a book can be tweaked, depending on the author’s schedule, and other factors. Pricing is another area of input. Some companies leave it entirely to the author what to charge; others “suggest” a price and others give a minimum price which reflects costs and the author can determine how much mark-up is needed.

For those independent spirits out there, this path seems like an ideal approach to get one’s work in the hands of the public. However, for all the positives, there can be negatives. These can be minimized or avoided if the author does the homework and considers all potential variables that will affect how successful the results are. The costs involved are not just financial, but personal as well. Writers who choke and stammer with fear at the thought of speaking to a literary group or book club must realize they will have to do things outside their comfort zones. If you’d rather cower in a corner with green gills and streams of sweat running down your temples than hand out book marks at a writer’s convention and tell others about your work, you may have trouble getting significant sales with this method of publishing. Those with marketing savvy most likely will find the sales pitch a bit easier to swallow. But, even for those with marketing backgrounds, the process can be daunting. Let’s face it, we authors are much more comfortable sitting in front of a laptop screen than standing before a crowd of strangers telling them why they should read our books.

Some of the bigger independent publishing companies have figured this out. They’ve capitalized on the demand for help in marketing and put together various packages to help authors promote and sell their work. This can be a great way to go for some authors, but not all. Not every one of us has thousands of dollars to spend on marketing and we must make our money count!

Authors are creative and this evidence shows in some of the ways they devise to attract attention to their books. Anything from email “signatures” with links to their book, to social media campaigns that offer something unusual in exchange for a review or other promotional considerations; the sky really is the only limit.

Finding success with independent publishing requires commitment, determination and a “failure is not an option” mentality. We have to come out of our comfort zones, shove those bookmarks in readers’ faces, “brag” about our work and never be afraid to tell others that we’re an author, a published author! Yes, I include myself in that demographic! I’m the one over there, huddled in a corner, a nice shade of green creeping up my throat and sweat running down my temples as I hear my name being announced as the next speaker at a literary event. How bad do you want it? That’s the question. As for me, I carry extra bottles of TUMS in my pocket. After all I’ve shoveled down my throat, I think I should buy some stock in the company, but I’m not giving up. Neither should you! In this new world of publishing I think Dorothy said it best, “Toto, I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore!”

Next time I’ll discuss some of the companies offering publishing packages and give my two cents worth on what an author should look for when considering these options.

Why do I write about medicine?

Why do I write about medicine in my novels? A good question. It’s been said that there are two things most important to people, their money and their health. How many headlines do you see each day that have to do with one or the other? ‘Nuff said, right? Well, maybe not.

Medicine affects us all, regardless of our health status. While some may only care about their personal outcome in a medical situation, others, like myself, are fascinated with the workings of the field. Okay, I have to admit that I have more than a little personal involvement in the field. I come from a family of physicians, radiologists, and lab technicians. I grew up hearing about all the issues concerning the field. I considered med school myself, for a while, until I realized it was going to be next to impossible to get over my fear of needles. So, I settled for an undergraduate degree in biology. And, when it was time to inject mice in a microbiology lab, I made my lab partner handle the needle!

After finishing my Master’s degree, I worked in a major Houston hospital (a location used in Against Their Will) as well as managed a group of physicians’ offices. It was there I learned what it is really like behind the scenes. My empathy for practitioners began growing at this point.

In recent years, I’ve been a patient more times than I can count. A hip replacement, back fusion, knee replacement, two rotator cuff surgeries and numerous other less invasive procedures have brought me face to face with some of the finest practitioners in the field. All of these life experiences have provided me with a wealth of material to draw upon in writing.

World-wide symbol of first aid; one of the first of the first responders

World-wide symbol of first aid; one of the original first responders.

Medical themes are popular; in books, tv shows and movies. We seem to be fascinated with what it is like to be a miracle worker, helping to heal people of a myriad of diseases and injuries. But, how do these miracles come about? Are those who create them always altruistic in their motives?

Against Their Will shows some of the other side of this scenario. As humans, we’re all imperfect and we all have that tendency to look out for ourselves first. When presented a scenario in which one can make wads of money while rationalizing that it is for the good of the people, who can say no? I’m not sure I could and I wonder how many others would as well. The characters in my book face that dilemma. Can any of us truly rise about the human condition to put the good of others above ourselves? Please share your comments as there are many sides to this subject, all worthy of hearing.